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Iraq

Arabs heartened to see U.S. vulnerability on TV

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 24, 2003


CAIRO -- As the images of dead U.S. soldiers and shaken prisoners in Iraq flashed across Arab television on Sunday night, reactions ranged from shame to tortured pride to uneasy happiness.

And from mosques to the Internet, Muslims around the world increasingly expressed anger at the U.S. attack on Iraq in radical religious terms.

This was a day, some said, that challenged the notion of U.S. invincibility.

"I saw this and I thought, 'Good, President Bush knows his fancy missiles don't work,' " said Mosad Ahmad Osami, 49, the father of three children. "We will win this war because God knows we are right."

The al-Jazeera network on Sunday repeatedly beamed footage of a number of dead U.S. soldiers, slumped over one another in what was reportedly an Iraqi morgue, and of another body in military uniform on a road behind a truck. The pictures, apparently recorded by Iraqi state television, were viewed in Cairo's noisy coffeehouses, in the lobbies of upscale hotels in Jordan and in quiet living rooms in Beirut. The satellite channel also showed interviews with five U.S. prisoners of war.

It was a contrast, almost a relief, some of those interviewed said, after three straight days of watching the video from Baghdad: U.S. missiles and bombs setting the night ablaze, wounded Iraqi children motionless in hospital beds, heads wrapped in bloodied bandages, legs and arms broken.

"Poor guys, poor guys. But what did they expect? The mother part of me is sad. But the Arab part of me is happy," said Maha Mahmoud, 46, a mother of three, who watched with hundreds of people who gathered at a hotel in Amman, Jordan.

"Sometimes, even as an Arab I feel sad. But, my God, look at this, they came to die. Their hearts were broken when they came. Whenever I feel bad for them, I picture the images I saw of a 7-year-old Iraqi with half of his head blown off."

One of India's most influential Muslim clerics had much stronger words.

"The war between right and wrong has begun. This is a jihad," a holy war, Syed Ahmed Bukhari said in a sermon in New Delhi that drew cries of "God is great!" from worshipers.

A London-based Arabic Web site known for extremist commentary posted a fatwa, or religious ruling, declaring any Muslim ruler or official who helps the "aggressor forces" in the war on Iraq is an apostate -- dangerous words when some fundamentalists say apostasy, the renouncing of Islam, should be punished by death.

Dia'a Rashwan, an expert on radical Islamic groups at Egypt's Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, said he has noticed a trend as he navigated Web sites and chat rooms in recent days.

"Now we have many calls to jihad, and those calls aren't only coming from what we usually call radicals or extremists," he said. More moderate clerics are using similar language, as are Islamic thinkers who usually confine themselves to political analysis, not calls to arms, he said.

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